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Singles' Day Marketing

From a celebration of singlehood to global shopping phenomenon: looking back at 10 years of 11.11


By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

November 10, 2018 | 10 min read

As the 11.11 shopping festival enters its 10th year, its incredible growth shows no signs of stopping, consistently beating out the four-day Black Friday to Cyber Monday period in terms of sales year after year.

The festival saw four times more sales than Black Friday in 2017, with more than $1bn being spent in just the first two minutes after midnight. E-commerce giant Alibaba, credited with creating the global shopping phenomenon, saw its gross merchandise volume clocking RMB168.3 billion, breaking its own record of RMB120.7bn the previous year.

The number of 11.11 delivery orders in 2017 went up by 23%, hitting 812 million, compared to 657m in 2016 and the percentage of GMV generated by mobile users was 90%.

Giulio Xiloyannis, the chief operating officer at Zalora, tells The Drum this shows three things - there is a growing number of online consumers and shoppers, e-commerce players in the region is sitting on a big opportunity and that the markets in the region are mobile-led.

According to Xiloyannis, the fashion e-commerce retailer saw over 70% of its orders come from mobile devices. It also adopts an omnichannel approach with customers having the choice to pick up or return orders at 7-eleven stores and other partners such as Singpost in Singapore.

“11.11 has also evolved from one platform-driven sales event into a multi-platform opportunity to drive sales and reach new customers,” he adds.

The success of Alibaba’s 11.11 has seen the rise of other similar events like 9.9, 10.10 and 12.12 created by other e-commerce players. For Tencent-backed Shopee, which is conducting its 11.11 sales for the third year, it claims it has seen ‘tremendous growth’ year on year as the online shopping holiday continues to gain traction in the region.

It is aiming to build on this traction off the back of its recent 9.9 shopping festival, which saw its highest ever single-day record, with over 5.8m orders recorded and over 15m items sold within 24 hours across the region. Like Zalora, Shopee saw more than 90% of orders made on mobile.

“11.11 is widely recognised to be the biggest shopping day in the world, and we believe that this major sale event will only continue to grow in size each year, with expanded promotions, product offerings and partner line-ups,” Zhou Junjie, the chief commercial officer at Shopee, tells The Drum.

“We are heartened by this trend as it signals positional growth for e-commerce. This, in turn, benefits consumers as platforms innovate to create more for consumers – something we strongly believe in, putting our consumers first.”

Will there be shoppers’ fatigue?

There is a concern that after a decade of 11.11 sales, as well as the emergence of more and more offshoot events like 9.9, 10.10 and 12.12, there will be shoppers’ fatigue.

However, observers like Xiaofeng Wang, a senior analyst at Forrester and Mimrah Mahmood, the regional director for media solutions at Meltwater, disagree, noting that as marketing, business models and technologies will continue to evolve, it means consumers’ consumption power for online shopping will continue to grow.

“I don’t think shoppers’ fatigue is ever a thing for 11.11. Consumers look forward to big sales and promotions all the time,” Wang explains to The Drum. “We see more and more retailers (online and offline) joining every year, across broader and broader product categories, industries and regions. And more and more shopping festivals are created, such as 6.18, 9.9, 10.10 and 12.12, etc.”

Mimrah adds, “Unlike the Great Singapore Sale which is held over the third quarter each year, the format for newer shopping festivals like 11.11 is generally held once a year, for only a day. With a short time period coupled with extravagant deals for a diverse mix of products, 11.11 has been effective in attracting and driving a greater sense of urgency among consumers to make purchases. Brands are even leveraging on this opportunity to offer additional discounts during the lead up to 11.11.”

Xiloyannis agrees with both Wang and Mimrah, noting that the challenge of staying relevant in the age of disruption for e-commerce platforms and brands boils down to one thing - knowing what the customer wants and be true to it.

He explains this means knowing where and how they buy and discover products, and connecting and combining multiple channels to reach consumers any time anywhere. That is because the customer journey starts from discovery and it does not end with the purchase.

“Capture their attention by having media, brands, and platforms collaborate to generate smart content and facilitate customer engagement. From visual and voice search to AI-produced content tailored to individual consumers, the key to stay relevant is to keep customers engaged,” he says.

“Online shopping also calls for an integrated solution for the entire process from product design, production, and inventory to pricing and logistics, infinitely extending the value of the supply chain. In the end, when it comes to customers, actions and numbers speak louder than words.”

Keeping 11.11 fresh

Xiloyannis’s advice has already been heeded, with e-commerce platforms staging richer marketing content for 11.11 this year. Previously, these platforms provided just basic incentives like discount offers, coupons, and vouchers. This has evolved to the present day, where interactive and gamified campaigns are commonplace.

For example, Alibaba-owned Lazada, which focuses on South East Asia, has brought back features on its app, introduced during 9.9, for 11.11 like ‘Slash It’, where consumers can invite their friends to help ‘slash’ prices and ‘Shake It’, where they can shake their mobile phones to win Lazada vouchers and discount codes. It has also introduced ‘Wonderland’, an interactive map that allows shoppers to discover 11.11 deals from various brands, as well as win special Lazada or store vouchers for their purchases.

Not to be left out, Shopee has also introduced its own version of getting consumers to shake their phones for discounts, called ‘Shopee Shake’. It also introduced flash deal reminders where consumers can schedule reminders for upcoming flash deals to avoid missing out on timed offers and voucher wallet for consumers to save vouchers into their voucher wallet, which are then automatically applied at checkout.

In addition, there are also in-app games where consumers can earn additional rebates in the form of Shopee coins, vouchers, and other giveaways.

For Zalora, which has a slightly different shopper base, it finds a balance between aspirational content and interactive engagement by offering different ways to engage the fashion shopper, from shoppable videos, offering visual search and AI-driven personalized ‘Just for You’ page, to exclusive collection and deals from top brands.

Supriya Jain, the managing director for Lion & Lion in Hong Kong applauds the introduction of these new tools by these platforms because the key learning for both brands and e-commerce platforms is that consumers are more aware of the offers available and do more research before the big sale commences. She notes some consumers make their shopping list for big-ticket items in advance, which means brands and platforms need to start communicating their upcoming offers earlier to ensure consumers’ shortlist their products offerings.

“For impulse purchase products like fashion apparel, the discounts need to be attractive enough to lure them into buying. A 10% or 20% discount will not make the cut, it has to be a substantial discount,” she tells The Drum.

Brands like Reckitt Benckiser Group and Johnson & Johnson are delighted with how e-commerce platforms like Shopee, Lazada and Zalora are re-inventing the shopping experience for 11.11, as it is a great opportunity for them to showcase their product offerings, engage shoppers and foster brand loyalty.

“Our sales expectations were exceeded during the recent Shopee 9.9 Super Shopping day, where we saw a four-time increase in orders compared to last year. Our partnership with Shopee has enabled us to effectively reach out to e-commerce savvy shoppers,” Deborah Chong, head of e-commerce for SEA at Reckitt Benckiser Group tells The Drum.

Patrick Smallcombe, president of SEA at Johnson & Johnson adds: “Johnson & Johnson is pleased to partner Lazada, where we are present on LazMall across all six markets (Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam) in SEA for the biggest ever one day 11.11 Shopping Festival.”

“With e-commerce as one of our prioritized growth drivers in the organization, the collaborative partnership and expertise from Lazada help support our FMCG brands to more effectively extend customer experiences beyond just online shopping; and to understand more quickly what customers want through a connected commerce approach.”

What challenges lie ahead for 11.11 in the next decade?

With 11.11 sales on the upward trajectory for the next decade, it means e-commerce platforms need to find a way to build a solid infrastructure of platform systems, delivery and warehouse logistics, payment system, data, and IT capability to cope with the massive spike in traffic and increased sales volume over the course of the day.

There is a worry for many platforms, because in 2017, after 11.11 launched, sales reached up to 1bn in the first 52 seconds, before reaching 10bn in 6 minutes and 58 seconds. Alibaba’s mobile wallet app Alipay also processed 256,000 payment transactions per second.

As Lion & Lion’s Jain points out: “Marketers often tend to focus most of their marketing efforts on providing the best deals on 11.11. However, the order fulfillment part often lacks the muscle to support the spike in orders placed during the sale day, thus brands and e-commerce platforms need to make sure customer service and delivery is a seamless experience for the consumer, to ensure fast delivery to customers, and that customer.”

While the likes of Alibaba has already invested heavily in its smart logistics arm Cainiao Network to aim to be able to deliver anywhere in China within 24 hours and anywhere else in the world within 72 hours, Xiloyannis says preparing for 11.11 is also part art and part science.

“It is important to have a structured approach in forecasting. There are a few components to it. One is looking at historical numbers. An extensive review of the data can help us in projecting peaks in the day. It’s also important for us to have a clear understanding of the quality of the deal offered and the depth of the inventory. The better the deal the higher the demand. Finally, the proper budgeting and marketing effort is key to a successful forecasting,” he explains.

“Accurate forecasting also demands us to coordinate with our IT and Operations team during this peak season. They need to make sure that our website and app will not lag and every step in the fulfilment process is ready for the increase in the volume of orders. Bottom line is, we want to give our customers the best online shopping experience possible.”

Once thought to be a day of events and celebrations in honour of being single in China, November 11 has evolved and grown beyond the shores of the world's most populous country. There is no doubt all the world's a stage for 11.11.

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